Hollywood Playbook: Monday's Top 5 News Items

Hollywood Playbook: Monday's Top 5 News Items

Is Johnny Depp’s Career Over?


But three high-profile flops in a row do give columnists the ability to write about the possibility.

Depp, whose star is obviously on the wane, is a victim of two things: his overall  choices and the fact that two of his choices are tired variations of the oddball schtick that made him a mega-star (and ridiculously rich) in the “Pirates” franchise. Last year’s “Lone Ranger” and 2012’s “Dark Shadows” were terrible choices. One movie based on a 60 year-old kiddie Western and another on an obscure 40 year-old soap opera. Both tried to sell tickets off Depp being weird, and that just isn’t enough.

This weekend’s flop, “Transcendence,” was just a mess in every which-a way. A horrible concept that  critics and Cinemascore say was also a horrible movie.

A fifth “Pirates” will solve most everything. That is scheduled for 2016 and will make another billion dollars. Depp *is* that franchise. Remove him and that billion dollars goes poof. You think James Franco could take his place?

Plus, when you look at Depp’s upcoming schedule, there is the Whitey Bulger biopic “Black Mass” scheduled for next year. The director is “Crazy Heart’s” Scott Cooper, and if the role is as grounded as 1997’s “Donnie Brasco,” it could really be something special.

Depp is only 50 years-old, he looks 15 years younger, is a real talent, and is irreplaceable in a beloved money-printing franchise.

He is going to be around for as long as he wants.


Broke My Bluray Budget Rule

It is not that I don’t make a good living, it is just that I’m cheap and a bit of an addict and know that if I don’t place restrictions on myself, I will buy every favorite of mine on Bluray regardless of cost and consequence to my retirement. So I set a restriction of $5-$7 for a Bluray. That’s it. I won’t spend a penny more. If it’s $7.50 or $7.99, too bad, shit-out-of-luck.  

Originally I had no intention whatsoever of up-converting any of my DVDs to Bluray. Then I made the mistake last year of building a movie theatre for myself with a high-def projector. Black and white DVD’s look sharp. No need upgrade those (thank heaven). But color DVDs look blurry and there are a whole lot of color movies I want to enjoy on my new 17′ x 8′ screen.

Anyway, rules are made to be broken. I can’t be a savage about this. Over the weekend, I purchased Burt Lancaster’s “The Swimmer” (1968),  Don Siegel’s “Charley Varrick” (1973)  and Michael Winner’s “The Stone Killer” (1973) — not on Bluray, but a digital HD copy. They were about $13 a piece.

It isn’t just that I love those titles and very much want to experience their cinematography (unique look and feel) on a theatre-sized screen, but “The Swimmer” is just too obscure to ever be available at $5. The digital copy through Amazon was about half the price of the  special-edition Bluray that just came out.

If you haven’t seen “The Swimmer,” do. It’s like a two-hour “Twilight Zone” episode — a color nightmare set in a mannered but decadent mid-sixties, upper-crust Connecticut suburb.  An unbelievably trim 53 year-old Burt Lancaster (the movie was filmed in ’66) decides he is going to swim home using all the swimming pools between him and there. Along the way, through his neighbors and some strangers, we learn all about this strange man who appeared out of nowhere.

Troubled production the whole way through, and a commercial and critical flop at the time.


It’s a masterpiece. Not for all tastes, but you have to see it at least once.  

As far as “Charley Varrick” and “The Stone Killer,” I rationalized my purchase based on the fact that I never even purchased them on DVD because the cost of the DVDs was way over my long-held $5 DVD budget. Incredibly, “The Stone Killer” took forever to earn a DVD release, and that was an expensive specialty release just a few years ago in the $18 range — which wasn’t even in letterbox.

“The Stone Killer” catches star Charles Bronson at the height of his superstardom. He was 50 years-old and had just made “The Mechanic” and would next make “Death Wish,” all with Winner. Bronson plays a racist cop with a social conscience (you have to see it) who stumbles on a revenge-plot hatched by a mafia boss (Martin Balsam) to wipe out his many enemies using troubled Vietnam War veterans.

The plot hums. Bronson is a Bad-Ass God. There’s a ton of broken glass and gunfire. A scene filmed at a hippie ashram is alone worth the $13. The supporting cast is top-notch: Norman Fell and John Ritter (pre-“Three’s Company”), The Mighty Stuart Margolin, The Great Paul Koslo, Ralph Waite in his delicious anti-Papa Walton sleaze-mode, Charles Tyner, Walter Burke, and Eddie Firestone.

A who’s-who of sweaty faces under bad 70’s haircuts.


Best of all, “The Stone Killer” is filmed on-location in both Los Angeles and New York City when both cities acted as character actors in their own right.

“Charley Varrick” is another gritty actioner filmed on-location (Southwest) in the early 70’s.

There is just something about the look of this era that I love. It catches America just before we got Applebee’d to death and every place was made to look just like every other place.  

It is easy to laugh at the style of the era — clothes, hair, wallpaper, polyester, avocado appliances, everyone looking like they could use a bath — but at least there was a style and these color noirs filmed out  in the real world captured their time and place like few other genres.

Similar films include Peckinpah’s “The Getaway” (1972), Cimino’s “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” (1974), “White Lightning” (1973), “The Outfit” (1973), McQ (1974),  “The Silent Partner” (1978)  — I could go on, but I place them in a category of their very own  — a crime/action/anti-hero genre filmed in an America lost three decades ago to a corporate conformity that plasters Everyplace USA with the same 15 signs that advertise the same 15 stores and eating places.

If I could program a three-day film festival, these titles would be my first choice. And it would be the greatest film festival in the history of film festivals.

These films also represent the last hurrah of the everyman hero. These guys had to rely on guts, steady nerves, and competence. This was before the eras of outsized muscles, superpowers, and wire-fu.


‘Noah” Is Clearly In Trouble

After nearly a month in release, “Noah” sits at just $290 million worldwide, including just $93.7 million in North America. puts “Noah’s” total budget — production plus promotion — at $175 million. A $50 million promotional budget seems low, but even if it’s true, “Noah” needs to bank $350 million to break even.

Can “Noah” wring another $60 million out of worldwide ticket buyers, especially with the Easter season over?

Paramount should never have allowed director Darren Aronofsky to cynically used the Bible to promote his anti-human paganism.


 From Tribeca to $5 Pay-Per-View In Minutes

Following up on 2012’s”Much Ado  About Nothing,” “Avengers” director Joss Whedon released his latest micro-budgeted feature, “In Your Eyes,” on pay-per-view immediately after its premier at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Someday this is going to be the norm. Sundance, Tribeca, and other film festivals will add a digital platform to the theatre experience, and for a few hundred dollars anyone will be able to attend these festivals from their living rooms.

Why not? Somewhere around 99% of festival films are never seen by anyone ever. Monetizing the festival will bring in more eyeballs, and if the film is good,  spread word-of-mouth among even more people. Streaming would only increase the chance of something breaking out. Moreover, potential distributors can make better-informed choices based on the interest shown by the number of downloads each film earns.

In the end, everyone makes more money.

Personally, I’d rather dry myself off in a microwave oven than attend a film festival, but I’d give a few of these foo-foo festivals events a shot from my couch.  

Whedon did this exactly right. He PPV’d his Tribeca entry for $5 “for a time,” which doesn’t kill the chances of a theatrical release. Enough downloads might even increase its chances.   


 Dumbest Bryan Singer Column Published So Far

The Wrap’s Tim Molloy pretends he’s writing a brave minority opinion as opposed to what everyone else is thinking. He hectors, he lectures, he poses, he bores:

There’s a case to be made that we should separate people’s art from their actions. I’m not making that case. I’m making a simpler one:

People are innocent until proven guilty.

Simply put, I don’t want to join in the mindless, knee-jerk character assassination of people I don’t know. Not even in a small way, like refusing to see movies I would otherwise see.

I don’t know if Singer or Allen are guilty. And here’s an important thing to remember, the next time you tweet or monologue at a party or boycott a movie:

You don’t know either.

There must be ways to puff yourself up that aren’t so lazy, laughably transparent, and unnecessary.


Quick hits:

The Supreme Court Is About to Decide the Future of TV

Average Movie Ticket Price Lowers to $7.96 in First Quarter

China Closes Websites in Porn Purge

Bieber Deportation Petition Gets a Response From the White House

Two ‘Godzilla’ TV Spots Tease the Humans Up Against the Monsters


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Follow  John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC